How Scientology Works

Scientology According to Scientology

A member of the 'Sea Org' walks by a sign outside the Church of Scientology Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard. Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images A member of the 'Sea Org' walks by a sign outside the Church of Scientology Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard. Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
A member of the 'Sea Org' walks by a sign outside the Church of Scientology Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard. Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

According the official Scientology website, Hubbard derived the word, "dianetics" from the ancient Greek word for "through" (dia) and "nous" meaning "mind or soul." To boil the concept down to its basics, dianetics refers to how the mind — or soul — affects the body. Scientologists believe the mind to be an interface between a person's thetan — or true, spiritual self — and their environment. This interface has two elements, the "analytical mind" and the "reactive mind." The analytical mind, as the term suggests, is rational and aware, whereas the reactive mind is unconscious and involuntary, yet simultaneously in charge of the analytical mind.

The reactive mind is where all the trouble is. It stores experiences in perfect recordings, called engrams, which feature every element of an event, even, or perhaps especially, traumatic events. If left to fester, these engrams are the source of nearly all that ails us. To mitigate the power of these engrams, it's necessary to recount them aloud to a trained auditor who can elicit the correct result with a set of prescribed questions. Once through this process, the engrams are purged of their force and a person becomes free of the pain they caused.

Auditing is said to be a process of objective, scientific precision, with each question calibrated to produce the necessary results. The Church of Scientology holds that, thanks to Hubbard's careful design of the auditing process and its questions, the procedure is free of any errors that might arise from the auditor's subjective biases.

Scientologists also insist that auditing not be confused with psychiatry, which uses methods they believe to be ineffective — mainly that psychiatrists interpret what someone says rather than simply accept what they say, as auditors do. Auditors use a series of tests administered before and after an auditing session to determine the results and establish what kind of auditing program will be necessary to bring a "pre-clear" person to a "clear" state, or "free" of their reactive mind. The results of these tests can be recorded on a graph to illustrate the progress made.

e-meter e-meter
Scientology auditors use e-meters to register members' thoughts during auditing sessions.
Andy Cross/The Denver Post/Getty Images

Hubbard expanded "Dianetics: A Science of the Mind," to book-length form and when it was published, also in 1950, it was a hit. Hubbard traveled the country giving lectures and demonstrating his ideas in the book. But by 1952, interest in dianetics was waning and Hubbard decided on a different course. He began incorporating the principles of dianetics into a new belief system, which he dubbed Scientology.

Scientology took dianetics to a new level, identifying the thetan or soul with past lives. Hubbard reasoned that if the thetan transcended time and the body, then it should be able to separate itself from the body at will. He alleged that this could be done and the process is called exteriorization. Identifying a spirit naturally leads a system of thought into the realm of religion. In 1954, Hubbard established the Church of Scientology of California, which is considered the organization's mother church. In 1957, the IRS granted tax-exempt status, making Scientology an official religion in the eyes of the U.S. government [source: Frantz].

By 1967, Hubbard had established the Sea Organization, which the church says is "a religious order for the Scientology religion and is composed of the singularly most dedicated Scientologists" [source:]. Members of the Sea Organization sign a billion-year contract making themselves wholly responsible to the Church of Scientology. Today the church claims to have more than 5,000 members of the Sea Organization.

So do Scientologists believe in a god? Absolutely, says the website, but unlike other religions, Scientology has no set teachings about god that it dictates to members. Instead Scientologists are expected to increase their spiritual awareness based on faith, auditing and training. The combination of these practices allows Scientologists to become free (via auditing) and stay that way (via training).

The ultimate goal of a Scientologist is to move up the Bridge to Total Freedom. Hubbard created a precise chart, known as the Classification, Gradation and Awareness Chart, which shows the exact path a Scientologist must take to become clear and move up the Bridge.